Former president, Donald Trump, has announced the formation of a new social media platform that will support free speech, even speech that may not agree with his views. The impetus for this is the widespread belief that conservative voices are unfairly silenced on social media. Trump, for example, has been banned for life on Twitter and Snapchat. He has been indefinitely suspended from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitch. So, it appears that Trump may have a case for developing a platform that appeals to conservatives, especially for those who feel they are not given a voice on more mainstream social media outlets.
However, others claim that this anti-conservative bias is nothing more than another conspiracy theory. In fact, in February, after Trump and his followers were banned en masse from multiple platforms, numerous media outlets printed headlines such as The Guardian’s “Claim of anti-conservative bias by social media firms is baseless, report finds” or Variety’s “No Evidence of Anti-Conservative Bias by Social Media, New Study Asserts”. When I asked my conservative associates if they think that conservatives are more often banned on social media than liberals, they looked at me as if I must be insane. They assume it is obvious that conservatives are more frequently banned on social media. So who’s right?
To find the answer to this question and to see if Trump is justified in developing a new social media platform for conservatives, I needed to examine this study that numerous media outlets refer to. I needed to answer two main questions about this study: How valid is it and how objective is it?
When initiating a study, scientists will propose a hypothesis that they will attempt to prove or disprove. It doesn’t matter to them if the hypothesis is proved true or false because, in science, the only thing that matters is that some truth is arrived at. Such objectivism is often lacking in sociological research.
When I read the report, False Accusation: The Unfounded Claim that Social Media Companies Censor Conservatives by Paul M. Barrett and J. Grant Sims, it was clear from the outset that this was an opinion piece posing as a legitimate report. I looked in vain for a working hypothesis but this is as close as I could get. “The claim of anti-conservative animus is itself a form of disinformation: a falsehood with no reliable evidence to support it. No trustworthy large-scale studies have determined that conservative content is being removed for ideological reasons or that searches are being manipulated to favor liberal interests.” Such conclusions should arise from the data and not be posited top-down. This is the same methodology used by conspiracy theorists. They posit a theory and then cherry pick anecdotes and data that support it. Conveniently, they ignore anything that works against their view.
Often, in conspiracy theories, data is misinterpreted to support a viewpoint. This is what I found here. For example, the authors use this data from Pew research to show that conservatives maintain “the false contention that conservatives are throttled online.”
First of all, the writers have not proven that this contention is false. The Pew research only shows more Republicans feel that certain viewpoints are censored and the assumption that these must be conservative viewpoints is solely that of the authors. Democrats also believe that social media censors viewpoints, but are those Republican or Democrat viewpoints?
One area that seems to reveal the true state of affairs is that “Democrats and Republicans hold contrasting views about the appropriateness of social media companies flagging inaccurate information on their platforms.” 73% of Democrats agree that social media companies should flag certain posts as inappropriate while 71% of Republicans say they should not. This leads one to suspect that Republicans feel discriminated against and that Democrats feel that inappropriate posts most often come from Republicans. This conclusion is supported by the finding that “liberal Democrats stand out as being the most supportive of this practice: 85% of this group say they approve of social media companies labeling elected officials’ posts as inaccurate or misleading.” But would they be so supportive if it were their views that were being so flagged? In other words, it seems, from the data, that conservatives have good reason to feel that their views are being suppressed.
Oddly, the writers admit that “it’s beyond dispute that Silicon Valley tech employees are overwhelmingly liberal. Political donations tell the story. At Facebook, 92% of individual, political action committee, and ‘soft money’ contributions to federal candidates and parties in the 2020 election cycle went to Democrats. At Google, the comparable figure was 96%; at Twitter, 97%.” But the authors take issue with these startling figures by saying, “the question, though, is whether personal preference for Democrats leads to bias against conservative content and personalities.” Oh, really. Are we to assume that there was no bias, even subconscious bias, at these outlets when liberal over-representation is at such incredibly high levels? That seems highly unlikely.
Much of the report relies on the number of social media interactions. They correctly point out that Trump posts had more interactions, by far, than those of any other candidate. True, but a large percentage of those interactions were from liberal trolls and bots. Besides, Trump was just more interesting and provocative by his very nature. Even if there are more conservatives on social media, as the report suggests, this does not obviate the possibility that a higher percentage of conservatives are banned, shadow banned, or flagged than liberals.
In the end, the report appears to prove what it set out to prove: that conservatives are not discriminated against on social media. It seems to be guided towards this goal and this goal only. Since this is the case, it would be interesting to discover the political leanings of the authors. Maybe they, too, have a subconscious bias. Take a look at a Tweet from one of the authors and decide for yourself on which side of the political spectrum he falls.
But the purpose of this post is not to completely dissect this report, because the report doesn’t really matter. What matters is that conservatives believe that they are discriminated against, whether they truly are or not. In this case, they would seek out conservative platforms where they would feel free to express themselves. From looking at the reasons why conservatives were banned from the main social media platforms, it appears they would like a place where they could talk about the January 6th demonstrations, COVID, global warming, and the validity of the last election.
But don’t such platforms already exist? Yes, but many have been marginalized by being unable to find hosts. Here are the basic marketing facts Trump’s Truth Social should consider. First, here are the world’s most popular sites (numbers are in millions of users).
Now, here are the sites that have banned or restricted Trump and, by extension, those followers who think like him.
The main conservative sites are Rumble, Gab, Parler, and MeWe. The most popular among these is Rumble with about 35 million users. None of these are remotely close to being in the top 50 social media apps. Some conservatives use Telegram, which, if included here, would be the most popular conservative app. So, at least on the surface, there appears to be a market niche that could be exploited.
From what I’ve seen, Truth Social is a Twitter clone, but so are many social media sites. My biggest question is: Why does Trump need Truth Social when he already has Gab? Gab has 4 million users and 2.2 million of them follow Trump’s Gab account.
I know he is trying to create a true free speech platform where people from all points on the political spectrum can share their views. As the app preview page states, “they’re all together to have an amazing time and share their viewpoints of the world. Although we don’t always agree with each other, we welcome these varied opinions and welcome the conversation.” Well, maybe in an ideal world, but this is the cyberworld where nothing is ideal.
The truth about Truth Social is that it will be unmercifully attacked by Trump haters. They’ve already infiltrated the beta version and created false accounts. There are other sites using the Trump Social tag that will redirect victims to phishing sites. But the worse is yet to come, because if you really value free speech, do you allow racist or neo-Nazi content? Do you allow pornography? If so, all you’ve created is another version of 8kun (formerly 8chan). But Truth Social will ban certain content. As they explain in their terms of service agreement, “if you provide any information that is untrue, inaccurate, not current, or incomplete, we have the right to suspend or terminate your account and refuse any and all current or future use of the Site.” Who decides which posts do not meet these criteria? Do they also ban hate speech? Exactly what is hate speech? One man’s hate speech is another’s free speech. And keep in mind that the anti-Trump contingent will pose as racists and neo-Nazis simply to discredit the site.
The organizers of Trump Social are well-aware of the cyber risks they face and they ban everything from installing beacons in images to disallowing DDoS attacks. That’s nice but those doing these things aren’t worried about being banned from the platform. They just want to cause trouble, and trouble is guaranteed.
The sad truth about Truth Social is that to succeed, they should forget about the idea of real free speech. In fact, they should do what Twitter does but in reverse. They should ban all posts that give unsubstantiated leftist positions. An objective response to a right wing view can be allowed, but an emotional insult cannot. Twitter decides which information is disinformation. They allowed Tweets of false information on the Nobel Prize winning drug, Ivermectin, to remain up long after these tweets had been proven false. In other words, Trump should mold the site in a way that is most amenable to conservatives just as other social media sites mold theirs to appeal to the left. Another way to do this would be to use the reddit model and force certain posts into certain subgroups. If you want to hate Trump, fine, talk about it in the “I hate Trump” subgroup.
Algorithms that do this can be developed but they are never perfect. Most people who use Twitter aren’t aware of the fact that they can tweak their sensitivity settings and, thereby, lower their exposure to tweets they find offensive. They can also report tweets they feel go against Twitter’s policies. But reporting such infringements will not get them instantly taken down. This is why Twitter has evolved into an insult hub.
Free speech may be good in principle, but we are now in the Age of the Echo Chamber. The left doesn’t really want to hear conservative views, no matter how well-supported they may be, and conservatives don’t want to listen to any liberal rants. This being the case, Trump will have to give his supporters what they want: the best conservative echo chamber they can find. Maybe one branch of the site could be called, The Ring, where those who want to fight opposing viewpoints can duke it out. Some enjoy wasting their time in this way, but you can do this on Twitter and other sites. You don’t need a new site for this. If Trump does not employ this conservative-first model, Truth Social will simply evolve into a cesspool of insults and attempted scams.
Some may be upset to see the end of traditional journalism, but, perhaps, the seeds of media bias were always there, even in what we assumed was objective reporting. They are now simply springing into view because no one wants to see objective journalism. If a person wants a balanced view of an issue, it is now contingent upon them to seek it out on their own by visiting websites with opposing biases and coming to a conclusion about the truth. Truth Social should try to be the go to conservative platform for those wanting to assess conservative opinions. The platform must appear to be refined enough to attract contributions from well-known conservatives. This will give it the validity it needs to survive. They don’t want to appear as just another rabbit hole, although sub-sites could exist for this if the demand is there. The site should welcome lively debate even though it pushes conservative views. That should not be a problem as there are a wide variety of conservative opinions. In short, we are at a point in history when people want to confirm that their ideas are right. They need their egos massaged and Truth Social will succeed to the extent that it becomes a conservative massage parlor.